Update: After we published the following story about Arsenal’s reported sale of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Chelsea, news emerged on Tuesday that the Ox has rejected the move (and Chelsea’s £220,000-per-week salary offer) in hopes of signing with Liverpool. Oxlade-Chamberlain apparently believes he will have a better chance at playing in his desired central midfield position in Merseyside. So there’s at least one person at Arsenal who has a definitive plan.
As it turns out, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s six-year Arsenal career was bookended in ignominy. According to reports, the 24-year-old winger/fullback/central midfielder will sign for Chelsea before Thursday’s transfer deadline for a fee reported to be £35 million.
On August 28, 2011, two weeks after his 18th birthday, the newly signed Ox, who came over from Southampton for £12 million, was trotted out for his Arsenal debut in the 62nd minute of an 8-2 massacre against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
On Sunday, in what is likely to be his last appearance as a Gunner, Oxlade-Chamberlain trudged off in the 62nd minute of a 4-0 thrashing against Liverpool at Anfield. Playing right wing-back, he made zero tackles, created zero chances, and seemed so disinterested he made Mesut Ozil look like Joey Barton.
So the Ox joined a club in crisis, and now leaves a club in crisis—a fitting summary of the past six years of stagnation at Arsenal. Like Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere—two fellow members of Arsenal’s “British core” who were thought to represent the club’s next generation of leaders—Oxlade-Chamberlain has had intermittent moments of brilliance that have been undermined by chronic injuries and the sense that he was never deployed in a way that consistently maximized his talent. After six seasons of often-flatlining development, he departs the club without having reached his full potential.
It’s that last bit that will gnaw at Arsène Wenger the most. For all of the manager’s failings—including allowing Alexis Sánchez, Ozil, and Oxlade-Chamberlain to run out their contracts without a contingency plan—Wenger has at the very least been able to foster loyalty among players by promising stability, creative freedom, and the chance to grow under his tutelage. Since Arsenal haven’t won the league in over a decade, it shouldn’t be surprising when imported superstars like Ozil or Sánchez (or Robin van Persie, or Cesc Fàbregas, or Samir Nasri) eventually want away in search of trophies and bigger paydays. But it has to be alarming when an English player who has been at Arsenal since age 17 and has yet to reach his prime effectively says: “I’m not getting any better here; it’s time for something new.” This is not only a stark reminder that the club isn’t a real title contender, but also an outright rejection of the timeworn “Arsène Knows” adage. Even a player as coddled as Oxlade-Chamberlain, stubbornly force-fit by Wenger into the starting XI until the very end, has lost faith.
After Sunday’s disastrous defeat, club legend Thierry Henry spoke of how the atmosphere of “comfort” at Arsenal is good for the players, but detrimental to the club’s ambitions. Earlier this month, Oxlade-Chamberlain was reportedly offered £180,000 per week to stay at Arsenal; to his credit, it appears that he’d rather risk discomfort (i.e., riding the bench at Chelsea) than be paid handsomely to take part in what increasingly feels like another failed season.
Last spring, Wenger’s contract was extended through 2019. The current malaise at Arsenal seems like it will get much worse before it gets better. Oxlade-Chamberlain has apparently had enough, and you couldn’t blame anyone for following him toward the exit.